President Donald Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address at 9 pm ET. Trump received widespread acclaim for his speech last year to a joint session of Congress (technically not a SOTU address), and stocks rallied in the aftermath, as investors scrambled to price in the Trump tax cuts, which he said would be passed by the end of the summer (of course, it took a little longer).
As the New York Times points out, Trump will deliver his speech during a tumultuous time for the US – and the West more broadly: Trump has said he’d be happy to meet with Special Counsel Mueller, whose investigation is widely believed to be nearing its conclusion. Mueller took over the probe in May, though the FBI under former Director James Comey opened the probe earlier in the year around the time it released a memo from the intelligence community delineating a pattern of purported Russian interference during the 2016 vote. Some conservatives worry that Trump’s recent focus on “bipartisanship” in the face of another possible government shutdown might lead to a “soft” speech.
Trump has provoked international controversy by vowing to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, earning him swift rebukes from the leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-majority countries. His warning that he has certified Iran’s compliance “for the last time” this month has angered the US’s partners in Europe and Asia who worked out a nuclear deal with Iran.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in both parties expressed outrage at Trump’s decision yesterday to essentially ignore an August law that was supposed to apply new sanctions to Russian business and political elites.
That bill famously passed with only two dissenting votes in the Senate. Though during Senate testimony Tuesday morning Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his department had followed instructions under the sanctions law and drawn up a list of Russian targets for sanctions. An imposition of sanctions could still follow.
Yesterday, the House Intel Committee voted to release a widely anticipated memo that purports to document FBI and other deep state abuses that took place during the Obama era.
In recent years, presidents have made inviting guests whose experiences explain certain policy proposals. During last year’s speech, Trump invited the widow of the first special forces soldier killed during the Trump administration. This year, the president and first lady’s guest list includes, veterans, an ICE agent and a “fire prevention technician.” The full list of 11 names and their biographies can be found here.
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In terms of the topics that will be covered during tonight’s speech, Politico and RT have both published primers on what to expect during tonight’s speech:
Sticking to the script:
Trump is notorious for going off-script during his campaign-style rallies. Though he largely stuck to the prompter during last year’s address to a joint session of Congress. RT asks: Will we see a repeat of this tactic? After all, Trump was booed when he went off-script in Davos to attack the press.
At least 11 Democratic lawmakers have announced they will boycott the State of the Union this year over reports that Trump said during a meeting that he wanted to limit US immigration from “shithole countries.”
The growing list of lawmakers who said they will not attend includes Representatives Danny Davis (D-Illinois), Barbara Lee (D-California), John Lewis (D-Georgia), Gregory Meeks (D-New York), Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), Albio Sires (D-New Jersey), and Frederica Wilson (D-Florida).
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also said she will not attend the State of the Union Address this week. Instead, she will be in Rhode Island to speak to Roger Williams University law school students. She was famously caught dozing off during Obama’s 2015 State of the Union and later admitted to not being “100 percent sober,” according to RT.
Will Trump talk about health care?
Recent polling from Politico/Morning Consult showed that 59% of voters surveyed want Trump to talk about improving the health care system, followed by 58% who want discussion of creating jobs and improving the economy.
Health care, in other words, still looms large in voters’ minds despite Republicans’ failed effort in 2017 to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“I hope he makes some mention of it because it is important to conservative voters,” said Lanhee Chen, the policy director of the Romney-Ryan 2012 presidential campaign.
But health care made scant appearance in talking points the White House distributed to surrogates over the weekend, despite being a focus of last year’s joint address to Congress.
Instead, Politico says Trump is expected to focus on five broad areas including jobs and the economy, infrastructure, immigration, trade, and national security.
Will Trump speak his mind on immigration?
Back in January, Trump said in a televised meeting with Hill negotiators that he’d be open to signing a “bill of love” covering undocumented immigrants without working out border wall issues first, until senior Republicans jumped in to correct him, as Politico reminds us.
In recent weeks, the administration has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats for shifting its position on immigration reform, which is likely to be the biggest issue during negotiations to avert another government shutdown when the current continuing resolution expires on Feb. 8.
So, which Trump will we see tonight? The conciliatory Trump who promised to take care of the Dreamers? Or the hardliner who recently requested $18 billion for border wall funding?
As AFP points out, his remarks are being written in part by senior aide Stephen Miller, who has for years been known in Washington as a hardliner on immigration and has been pressing for an uncompromising stance.
“For many years, for many, many years, they’ve been talking immigration, they never got anything done. We’re going to get something done, we hope,” Trump said.
Will Trump mention the Russia investigation?
Trump has already said he’d be happy to meet with Mueller earlier this month, following reports that the special counsel was trying to arrange an interview with the president after interviewing most of his inner circle.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed reporters’ queries about the investigations on Monday as “Russia fever.” But given Trump’s controversial sanctions decision – and the decision by Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe to step down – reporters will be watching to see if he addresses these issues, or if he leaves them out entirely.
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As RT reminds us, in an amusing development that has generated a deluge of mockery on Twitter, the tickets to tonight’s event included an embarrassing typo.
Looking forward to tomorrow’s State of the Uniom. pic.twitter.com/xdBUU3Pvo5
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 29, 2018
It looks like some intern heads are gonna roll.